The N.L. government and Eastern Health have unveiled a new emergency response team for people with mental illnesses, seven years after it was recommended by a provincial inquiry.
The mobile team comprises nurses, physicians and social workers who respond to psychiatric crises in person in the St. John's area.
The service is designed for situations where the province's telephone crisis line doesn't suffice. It is hoped the mobile unit will help curtail the number of people sent to hospitals and the frequency of calls to police.
The whole team went out Thursday afternoon in its non-descript van to introduce itself.
"It's pretty low key in terms of vehicles, but that's part of the intent of our program," said the team's David Kieley. "We don't want to identify any of the clients who are in need in the community, so we tend to want to get in and out of a neighbourhood without necessarily being recognized as the crisis team that we are."
The establishment of the crisis team was a key recommendation of the 2003 Luther inquiry, which investigated the deaths of two mentally ill men who were shot and killed by the police in separate incidents in Corner Brook and Little Catalina.
With over 600 calls to the mental-health crisis line last year from people contemplating or attempting suicide, advocates say it's better late than never.
"Sometimes individuals living with mental-health illnesses are unable to go to hospital. This may be related to the stigma, or the individual may not realize the extent of their illness," said Keith Hutchings, member of the house of assembly for Ferryland, which includes parts of St. John's.
The new mobile response team can be reached via the provincial mental-health crisis line at 1-888-737-4668.